Off to College and At College: The Growing Market of 11 Million Millennial Full-Time Students and their Parents

Off to College and At College: The Growing Market of 11 Million Millennial Full-Time Students and their Parents

Across the US, an estimated 21 million students will be enrolled in college in 2014, up from 15 million in 2000 according to the National Center of Education Statistics; 11 million of those students are full-time undergraduates, and approximately 3 million are headed off to college for the first time.

While “Back to School” is a huge focus for moms of elementary, middle school and teenage students, “Off to College” and “At School” markets have the potential to command even more spending per student.  The National Retail Federation reported average spending for K-12 students at an estimated $689 per student in 2013, while costs to outfit a college student can be much higher (not including tuition).

One-time expenses to outfit the student who lives away from home at college include décor (carpets, pillows, bed coverings) and small appliances for the room.  For their studies, there are educational expenses like textbooks and even bigger ticket items like laptop/tablet computers, mobile phones, credit cards (often backed by parents) and bank accounts.  And there are additional costs for clothing and shoes.

Lisa Merritt, Co-Founder of Redship, a company that specializes in healthy and delicious care packages, comments,

“Retailers like The Container Store found that college student registries outperformed bridal registries in recent years.. USA Today reported that Target launched a completely online college registry in June 2014. At Redship, we offer subscription and ad hoc care package services to college parents and other adult family members to help support college student success.”

Off to College and At College: The Growing Market of 11 Million Millennial Full-Time Students and their ParentsSupporting college students “At School” is important, since as many as 1 in 3 college students won’t make it back for their sophomore year, according to US News & World Report.  While leading marketing at Purdue University, Teri Lucie Thompson recognized the importance of helping parents support their college students in an age appropriate way.  Key dates on campus were highlighted in the Purdue family calendar, Boilermaker treat packs were offered, and a parent Facebook page was established.

Thompson, now Senior Vice President University Relations & Chief Marketing Officer at University of Arizona, notes that similar programs are in place at the University of Arizona, including a care package program, and other helpful resources on the UA’s dedicated Parent & Family Programs website. She comments:

“We want to make it easy for parents to stay engaged with their students during their time at UA.”

While at school, many parents and other adult family members (such as grandparents, aunts and uncles) want to support the young adult student’s success and provide non-intrusive support while encouraging independence and separation. It’s a tough balance, as anyone who has gone through it knows. Care packages, like those provided by Redship, prove a win-win for the supportive adult and the young adult student.

Student needs for support don’t stop at the end of freshman year. There is significant demand for care packages among parents of older students, including those who have graduated college.

Off to College and At College: The Growing Market of 11 Million Millennial Full-Time Students and their ParentsMerritt reports that today’s care packages have moved beyond focusing simply on indulgence, and one of the company’s most popular lines is the Healthy Care Package, with demand driven by students and parents.  Redship conducts ongoing research with college students and their parents to ensure that its package selections are on trend. And Redship also goes one step further, by acknowledging the delivery of the package to the sender, in case the student recipient overlooks to thank the sender.

Other brands, including financial services and other consumables can tap into both the “Off to College” and “At School” markets of parents of college students.  Other related markets, such as boarding schools and camp programs can also present secondary opportunities. Market strategy for these opportunities should consider the need to promote independence while offering support and encouragement.

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    Michal Clements

    Michal is co-author of Tuning Into Mom and an experienced consultant. Michal develops winning growth strategies and detailed go to market plans for some of the world’s outstanding organizations including McDonald’s, Gatorade, Abbott, Barilla, Tylenol, Clorox, Key Bank, Eagle Ottawa, Quaker and the Baker Demonstration School.

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